HMFH Architects

Residential Common Spaces
That Really Work

In an article for the SCUP publication, Planning for Higher Education, Julia Nugent looks at what works and what doesn’t in the design of residential common spaces.

Lively and cohesive residential communities, those that engage students and create a sense of belonging, provide more than shelter and security. The most successful campus housing supports the academic and developmental needs of students. Residential common areas are the primary venue for students to form social connections and shape their communities.

But sometimes we build it and they don’t come. Why does one room sit empty while another is alive with activity 24-7? What types of spaces actually foster the resident students’ personal, social, and academic growth? Is the money spent truly having a positive impact?

The Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA), the entity that plans, designs, finances, and constructs all of the student life facilities for the system’s nine campuses, decided it needed to fine out. The MSCBA was undertaking an ambitious residential construction and renewal process, and it wanted to be confident that the dollars would be spent where they mattered most.

The MSCBA launched the Residential Common Space Study to evaluate 15 of its new or newly renovated residential buildings and characterize in quantitative and qualitative terms the buildings’ public spaces and their effect on residential communities. In short, the MSCBA sought guidelines for common space programming and design that could be readily duplicated in upcoming projects.

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